Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Anonymous blog ratings should not be used like a digital sniper rifle


There's something to the feeling of anonymity we get by connecting to the Internet to engage in some form of dialog. I've seen it empower a lot of students, teachers, bloggers, and others who feel better about taking often unlimited time to process their thoughts before responding to a question.

And ratings are important when we try to wade through the massive amounts of information generated by writers (like me) who would never have considered being so prolific if technology had not made publication so simple. As we engage the semantic web, ratings (like those found for sellers at eBay and books at Amazon) will be invaluable. These ratings will allow us to see what others thought about a certain author or product, and will likely allow us to filter the ratings by group, allowing us to see what all people, people in our profession, people in our country, and people in our social group thought.

But ratings that are completely anonymous add a troubling degree of uncertainty to the mix.

Anonymous ratings are good for a group of students who rate a professor. They have a place in the rating of supervisors by their subordinates. But they have no place in an open community of thinkers who allegedly form for the purpose of discussion and collaboration.

Anonymous ratings should not take the place of comments in response to a blog. Comments are there to provide an open forum for discussion -- whether in agreement or disagreement -- about a posted topic. They provide the reader with a place to ask questions. They provide the writer with a place to answer and clarify. And they provide both with an opportunity to agree to disagree. They serve well in this role . . . unless, of course, the reader/commenter conceals their real identity . . .

But in the hands of some, anonymous ratings can be misused. If we read a post that we don't agree with, what could possibly cause us to rate it negatively without exploring the intent of the author? How do we justify the hit-and-run activity by those who act as ratings snipers without challenging the thought process of the author? Why do we tolerate this cowardly activity?

I'm not talking about the kind of disruption caused by a disgruntled employee who writes an anonymous blog. I'm not talking about Net Neutrality, the premise of which is the absence of restrictions by those providing access on those for whom the access is provided.

I'm talking about the people who choose to unfavorably rate the post someone took the time to write with the intent to engage others in dialog.

If you don't like the post, say so! If it contains things you don't agree with, say so! If you aren't interested in the post, do like most do at the grocery store, sitting at the television, or reading the newspaper . . . move along.

What do you think?

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